Battles of the Covenanters – a
background note.

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The Scots Worthies
by John Howie of Lochgoin (1775)  has many references to the battles
and skirmishes throughout the 17th century although a goodly proportion
are but passing references that an individual was there. He gives more
detail of the confrontations that have passed into Covenanter lore –
Mauchline Moor (1648), Rullion Green (1666), Drumclog (1679), Bothwell
Brig (1679), and Ayrsmoss (1680). There are separate pages for these
actions, but first a resume of the politics which lay behind the
Covenanter resistance.

The big picture.

The 17th century was a time
of great conflict and tension both within and without all three kingdoms
of England, Ireland and Scotland. After 1603 there was but one King for
all three kingdoms but, importantly, they were not joined politically. The
situation therefore was of successive absolute monarchs  (James VI/I,
Charles I, [ Cromwell ] Charles II and James VI) trying to impose their
will on separate kingdoms, each with their own particular internal issues,
and separate legislation. Moreover, all three kingdoms had religious
issues that brought personal conflict with the King. It was also necessary
to keep a watchful eye on Europe where war with Spain, France and Holland
was an on – off affair throughout the century. Europe itself was bound up
in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). It is difficult to conceive of a more
complex century for politics than this.

In Ireland there was a
honeymoon period for non conformists until about 1630 . The resurgence of
persecution of the Presbyterians from 1633 was led by Thomas Wentworth,
later Earl of Strafford, and the adoption of the `uniformity` policies
that Archbishop Laud was imposing on the Scottish church. Contention also
increased between the indigenous peoples and the English and Scottish
settlers of the Plantation of Ulster who
had taken ownership of seized lands. From this rose the ugly head of
religious discrimination and rebellion – the Irish Killing Times of 1641.
The response by a Scottish army was inevitable, in which was joined some
English forces. Not much later Cromwell imposed a bloody peace which
provided a few years breathing space before persecution of the
Presbyterians began again with the Restoration
of Charles II in 1660. 

In the second half of the
century the Catholics obtained a degree of tolerance – probably because
Charles II was covertly turning to the Church of Rome. He also began to
change the tenor of his politics and was negotiating with France who paid
him some £200,000 a year. When James II (ruled 1685-1688) came to the
throne the Catholic fortunes changed greatly and by 1688 they were
dominant in the Army, the law, and civil administration. Protestant power
was greatly weakened, and this contention along with the very real fear of
a return to Popery ( and a Catholic succession thereafter), led to King
William and Mary, the Protestant daughter of James II,  being invited
to take the English throne. William III later landed in Ireland with his
troops and
settled matters (for a
while) at the battle of the Boyne on 1 July 1690.


In England a Scottish King,
James VI, became James I of England, on the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.
He was a new boy yet to be broken in by the English courtiers and
unaccustomed to the international politics, yet thoroughly enjoying the
riches and splendour of the English Court. There was also religious
division with the Puritans and other non conformists pressing for freedom
of worship.  In 1629 Charles I started his Personal Rule and in 1633
appointed two arch persecutors – William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury
and Thomas Wentworth as Lord Deputy of Ireland. Laud in particular sought
to restore the splendour of the Church (`the beauty of holiness`) that
seemed to many to be a return to Popery. So the scene was set for the
Bishops Wars 1639-1640, Rebellion in Ireland 1641, the Civil War in 1642
and the republican Commonwealth under Cromwell. After Cromwell came the
Restoration of Charles II 1660; the iniquitous
“Clarendon Code “
   that bore down on English non
conformists, the Great Plague of London in 1665, the Fire of London 1666;
and ongoing squabbles with France Spain and Holland. Finally there arose
the `Glorious Revolution` in 1688 when King James II was deposed and
William and Mary asked to take the throne.


Scotland there was always present  the machinations of the King and
the prelates. The introduction of Laud`s Liturgy sparked Jenny Geddes to
throw her stool at the Dean of St Giles Church when he began to use the
new Prayer Book. The consequence of this policy of religious uniformity
was the National Covenant of 1638. In 1643 the Solemn League and Covenant
created an alliance with the English Parliamentarians and involved
Scotland in the English Civil War against the King. A period of attrition
in 1644-5 between royalist forces under the Marquis
of Montrose
(who had deserted the Covenanters) saw thousands of
Covenanters killed and the end of serious armed resistance in set piece
battles. Machinations by the nobles led to the
and war this time against Cromwell –  a big mistake.
However, the Second Reformation was pressing ahead, reaching its purest
state in 1649 – 1650 when the strict Covenanters held power and a clerical
government ruled. But this too ended when Cromwell took Scotland.

Valiant though they were,
the Scottish army that faced Cromwell at Dunbar
were divided among themselves and purged of many good soldiers. Even so
they outnumbered the literally sickly soldiers of the New Model Army but
were tactically outsmarted by Cromwell. The English Civil War ended with
the death of Charles I in 1649 and a later Scottish rising in support of
Charles II was ended at Worcester in 1651. The
subsequent Restoration of Charles II in 1660, saw greatly increased
persecution of nonconformists in all three kingdoms. The later
Covenanters` battles of Rullion Green,  and Drumclog were more in the
form of skirmishes. When it finally mattered at Bothwell Brig they were
again racked by internal dispute and faced by a larger, better trained and
armed, royalist force that destroyed them. The indiscriminate slaughter of
non conformist Covenanters reached a peak in the  Killing Time of
1684-5. Meanwhile the
Parliament intervened with its ruler, rejected the Catholic James II and
invited William and Mary to take the throne. In this the Scots concurred
and finally gained an established Presbyterian Church of Scotland,
confirmed in 1690. But for the Covenanters, known also as the Society
people, the Settlement was unsatisfactory and unacceptable; they remained
outside the church and went on to establish the Reformed Presbytery in


In summary therefore, there
was much conflict with the only certainties being that each country
successfully meddled in each others affairs to no particular advantage.
And, as if they needed it, each country suffered from bouts of plague and
famine to the great cost of their populations. In many cases the marching
and countermarching of troops living in makeshift and unsanitary
conditions help spread disease and illness, while the levies for military
service took the farmers from the land at the expense of the uncultivated
and unharvested crops. In short, there was a senseless waste of men and
materials because of the stubbornness  and arrogance of the `
supremist` Stuart kings, and the greed of their minions.

Estimates of the
numbers vary greatly but possibly as many as
30,000 Presbyterians died for their beliefs in one way or another

Mauchline Moor 12 June 1648

Rullion Green 28 November 1666

Drumclog  1 June 1679

Bothwell Brig 22 June 1679

Moss 22 July 1680